REU student studies fish pee to understand Biscayne Bay pollution

By Maria Gabriela Gonzalez Starchek

Maxwell Taks conducts fieldwork.
Maxwell Taks conducts fieldwork.

Biscayne Bay needs saving. Maxwell Taks spent his summer looking at fish pee to better understand Biscayne Bay’s pollution.

When his FIU environmental law professor mentioned the FIU Institute of Environment’s Coastal Ecosystems Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), Taks knew he had to apply.

“The REU was the opportunity I had been looking for a while,” Taks said. “This program would help me gain experience and allow me to connect to people in my field.”

Taks studied fish excretions in professor Justin Campbell’s Global Change Biology Lab with his near-peer mentor, William Wied. Taks refined methods written by other researchers on how to estimate levels of fish nutrient excretions, which fish passively give off through their excretory system. Fish urine has an often-overlooked role in the marine nutrient cycle. By understanding the role of fish urine, the impact of nutrient pollution in the bay is clearer to see. 

Taks used pipettes to collect water samples of incubated fish at different times with varying fasting periods before the fish needed to be incubated in a plastic bag. After treating samples with reagent, he would test nitrogen content in a spectrometer, which indicated the excretion rate of the fish.

“Although nutrient flows are very well understood on land, limited research exists on marine fish nutrients,” Taks said. “My research integrated the intersectionality between ecological stoichiometry, marine fishes, and of course, the denigrate state of our bay, which is being trampled with excessive nutrient pollution.”

Taks was one of three FIU summer 2021 REU students chosen for The Everglades Foundation’s John Marshall Internship.

After finishing his bachelor’s degree in sustainability at FIU, Taks plans to work in a national park to promote sustainability.